Thoughts on talking about social media, in person

Thoughts on talking about social media, in person

As part of the series of workshops that Mark Carrigan and I have conducted at the Faculty of Education, we’ve been covering topics such as digital engagement, scholarship, networking, and impact — and how all of this relates to our day to day academic lives.

Having just wrapped up our series, I started reflecting on the whole premise of workshops in which we all meet at a certain place and time to talk about what we do online. There is something almost peculiar about talking about what we do online, in person. But why does it feel odd? Why not just post some slides online and be done with it? (As an introvert, the thought has crossed my mind multiple times over the years).

A long, long time ago I dabbled with having online office hours using something called AOL Instant Messenger. At the time, it was kind of a fun experiment and its benefit was certainly being able to be available to more students without the time and location constraints. In terms of results it was a mixed bag – some students loved the access, but in those early days of instant messaging etiquette things such as coherent spelling and managing the ebbs and flows of chat-mediated communication were still a work in progress.

Maybe someday we’ll have workshops about social media over social media to cover the topics that we covered during the past few weeks. I think of some reasons why it might work, and probably many more reasons why it might not work — but perhaps someday.

That being said, face to face engagement seems to be more conducive to engaging discussions in a way that online interactions don’t seem to easily foster. Sherry Turkle at MIT discussed this over the course of her book, Reclaiming Conversation. And debate still continues on whether we may or may notbe less likely to share and say what we really think when online, as opposed to how we communicate in person.

Speaking of conversation, I’ve spent time thinking about how social media can function as a kind of shared conversation, a type of conversation that isn’t bounded by those participants being in a particular space at a particular time. For example, the FERSA blog team was present to share some thoughts as we were discussing them as a group during one of the workshop sessions:

One of my — perhaps somewhat idiosyncratic — uses of social media is by using my tweets as additional information for people who want to further explore the things we discuss in person. This stems from my own personal habits: when I hear something during the course of a workshop and want to look it up or save it for later, I know that means temporarily shifting my focus online rather than to the discussion unfolding in front of me. I’ve started using that impulse to carry those Google searchable moments onto my own Twitter feed so that everyone who wants to can check in for themselves whenever they feel like it.

As someone who pays a lot of attention to digital distractions, I have some ambivalence about live-tweeting events. I think it has a lot of use and can open up a good conversation to a wider group. I live-tweet at events fairly often but not always, and am always mindful that this kind of multitasking means that my attention is drawn away from the thing happening in front of me. I like to sneak in such live tweets whenever there is a natural break in the action, but that being said, there are times when live-tweeting makes a great deal of sense, as well as times when it certainly does not.

Or am I wrong about some, or all of this? I’d be curious if anyone has thoughts to share on this.